Well, it’s May 22nd. And as you may have noticed, despite the hopes and expectations of Harold Camping and his followers, the world did not end yesterday.
Yesterday, sceptics across the U.S. organised “Rapture parties”, and talk-show hosts joked about Judgment Day. At the restaurant where my sister and I had lunch, the end of the world was *the* topic of (lighthearted) conversation among our servers and fellow diners. Thousands of people even RSVPed to the facebook event “Post-Rapture Looting”. It’s easy to mock Harold Camping. After all, he already predicted the world would end once before, in 1994. This time, he calculated the date of the Apocalypse based on the belief that Noah’s flood began exactly 7,000 years ago, and that Christ died on 1 April 33CE. Hmmm.
But dig a little deeper into the media coverage, and Camping’s prophecy begins to hit closer to home. The New York Times reported yesterday that relationships are strained in families divided by belief. One teenager (whose parents stopped saving for university in light of the coming Apocalypse) states, “My mom has told me directly that I’m not getting into heaven.” Conversely, one believer who had just said goodbye to his unbelieving family expressed his deep sorrow that they wouldn’t be with him in heaven. Both of these sentiments are painfully familiar to those of us who have strayed from our childhood religion, or who have embraced new expressions of faith alone, later in life.
It’s also difficult to read about the man who spent his life’s savings on publicity materials to spread the word about the Apocalypse, the woman who fled an abusive relationship and found meaning through Camping’s teachings, or the man who said he planned to euthanize his beloved pets before the Rapture. Where are these people now? What are they thinking? Now that they’ve lost everything chasing a lie, will they lose their faith altogether? Will they be able to trust again?
Ultimately, I have to believe that Camping’s followers were driven by love—love of the divine and of humanity. Only this, I hope, could have empowered them to endure apathy and mockery as they bade farewell to family and friends and attempted to convert unbelievers before it was too late. Likewise, the only legitimate response to the “crazies” is love—by recognising that their extreme behaviour stems from the same profoundly human search for truth and significance that drives our own faith.